What is it about?

Researchers at the University of Oslo have discovered evidence of the oldest commercial fishing in Europe. Using ancient DNA from archaeological herring bones, they found that commercial fishing in Europe started ~1200 years ago, during the Viking Age. The study traces the development of herring fishing in the Baltic Sea using genetic evidence. Combined with genome sequences from modern herring, the researchers show that herring might have been overfished as early as 800 years ago. By comparing their data to past climate change they also uncovered clues about how Baltic herring may respond to climate change in the future.

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Why is it important?

This study highlights the importance of managing fish stocks as biological units. It also shows the long-term impacts climate change can have on different populations of the same species. Further, the enduring impact of fishing on this species indicates a need for revision in management policies.

Perspectives

While Baltic herring might not be the most commercially-valued species in the world, this study shows how much we impact marine ecosystems even without industrial technology. I hope this interdisciplinary work brings together people from the many areas we need to address the problems of overfishing and anthropogenic climate change: fisheries' policymakers, economists, historians, ecologists, marine biologists, geneticists, and archaeologists.

Lane Atmore
University of Oslo

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This page is a summary of: Population dynamics of Baltic herring since the Viking Age revealed by ancient DNA and genomics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2208703119.
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